Mississippi Physician Sentenced to Over Three Years in Prison for Role in $3 Million Compounding Pharmacy Fraud Scheme

June 7, 2018

A Biloxi, Mississippi physician was sentenced today to 42 months in prison for his involvement in a $3 million compounding pharmacy fraud scheme.

Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney D. Michael Hurst Jr. of the Southern District of Mississippi; Special Agent in Charge Christopher Freeze of the FBI’s Jackson, Mississippi Field Division; Acting Special Agent in Charge Thomas J. Holloman III of IRS Criminal Investigation’s (IRS-CI) New Orleans Field Office and Special Agent in Charge John F. Khin of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service’s (DCIS) Southeast Field Office made the announcement.

Albert Diaz, M.D., was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Keith Starrett of the Southern District of Mississippi.  Restitution to TRICARE and other insurance companies will be determined at a later date. On March 2 after a five-day jury trial, Diaz was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and wire fraud, four counts of wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to distribute and dispense a controlled substance, four counts of distributing and dispensing a controlled substance, one count of conspiracy to falsify records in a federal investigation and five counts of falsification of records in a federal investigation.

According to evidence presented at trial, between 2014 and 2015, Diaz participated in a scheme to defraud TRICARE and other insurance companies by prescribing medically unnecessary compounded medications, some of which included ketamine, a controlled substance, to individuals he had not examined.  The evidence further demonstrated that, based on the prescriptions signed by Diaz, Advantage Pharmacy in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, dispensed these medically unnecessary compounded medications and sought and received reimbursement from TRICARE and other insurance companies totaling more than $3 million. The trial evidence further demonstrated that in response to a TRICARE audit, Diaz falsified patient records to make it appear as though he had examined patients before prescribing the medications.

The FBI, IRS-CI, the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General, the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics and other government agencies investigated the case.  Trial Attorneys Kate Payerle and Jared Hasten of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Helen Wall of the Southern District of Mississippi are prosecuting the case.

The Fraud Section leads the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, which is part of a joint initiative between the Department of Justice and HHS to focus their efforts to prevent and deter fraud and enforce current anti-fraud laws around the country.  The Medicare Fraud Strike Force operates in nine locations nationwide.  Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force has charged over 3,500 defendants who collectively have falsely billed the Medicare program for over $12.5 billion.

Signature HealthCARE to Pay More Than $30 Million to Resolve False Claims Act Allegations Related to Rehabilitation Therapy

June 8, 2018

Signature HealthCARE, LLC (Signature), a Louisville, Kentucky based company that owns and operates approximately 115 skilled nursing facilities, including 7 in middle Tennessee, has agreed to resolve allegations that it violated the False Claims Act by knowingly submitting false claims to Medicare for rehabilitation therapy services that were not reasonable, necessary and skilled, the Department of Justice announced today.  The settlement also resolves allegations that Signature submitted forged pre-admission certifications of patient need for skilled nursing to the state of Tennessee’s Medicaid program.  Under the settlement agreements, Signature has agreed to pay more than $30 million.  As part of the resolution, the State of Tennessee will receive a portion of the overall settlement.

“Today’s settlement demonstrates our continuing efforts to protect patients and taxpayer by ensuring that the care provided to beneficiaries of government-funded healthcare programs is dictated by clinical needs, not a provider’s fiscal interests,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler for the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “Nursing home facilities provide important services to our elderly, and those facilities must uphold the trust placed in them by billing the government only for reasonable and necessary services.”

The government alleged that Signature engaged in various practices that resulted in the submission of claims for unreasonable, unnecessary, and unskilled services to Medicare patients, including: (1) presumptively placing patients in the highest therapy reimbursement level, rather than relying on individualized evaluations to determine the level of care most suitable for each patient’s clinical needs; (2) providing the minimum number of minutes required to bill at a given reimbursement level while discouraging the provision of additional therapy beyond that minimum threshold; and, (3) pressuring therapists and patients to complete the planned minutes of therapy even when patients were sick or declined to participate in therapy.

“Health care providers who engage in deceptive practices place patients at unnecessary risk and contribute to the financial distress of our federal healthcare programs,” said U.S. Attorney Cochran for the Middle District of Tennessee.  “Our dedicated teams of civil enforcement attorneys will work tirelessly with the relators who report fraud such as this and with our law enforcement partners who investigate healthcare fraud.  When we determine that companies are cheating the taxpayers, we will hold them accountable as we have in this case.”

“Our most vulnerable citizens are put at risk when healthcare providers put their financial interests above their patients’ needs and valuable federal funds are diverted from where they are surely needed,” said U. S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak for the Northern District of Georgia. “This settlement demonstrates our commitment to pursuing healthcare providers who provide unnecessary care to advance their bottom line.”

“Signature was charged with illegally boosting profits by providing excessive amounts of therapy to patients whether they needed it or not,” said Special Agent in Charge Derrick L. Jackson for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General. “The decision to provide therapy should never be based on corporate financial considerations rather than a patient’s medical needs.”

The settlement resolves allegations filed in a lawsuit by Kristi Emerson and LeeAnn Tuesca, former Signature therapy employees, in federal court in Nashville, Tennessee.  The lawsuit was filed under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act, which permit private individuals to sue on behalf of the government for false claims and to share in any recovery.  The Act also allows the government to intervene and take over the action, as it did in this case.  Ms. Emerson and Ms. Tuesca will receive a portion of the recovered funds.

The settlements were the result of a coordinated effort by the Civil Division of the Department of Justice, the United States Attorney’s Offices for the Middle District of Tennessee and the Northern District of Georgia, the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Department of Defense, Office of Inspector General, the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, and the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Inspector General.  Trial Attorneys Christelle Klovers and Denise Barnes of the Civil Division of the Department of Justice, Assistant United States Attorney Sarah K. Bogni of the Middle District of Tennessee, and Assistant United States Attorney Lena Amanti of the Northern District of Georgia represent the United States.  Assistant Attorney General Philip Bangle represents the State of Tennessee.

  The case is captioned United States ex rel. Emerson and Tuesca v. Signature HealthCARE, LLC, et al., Case No. 1:15-cv-00027 (M.D. Tenn.).  The claims resolved by the settlements are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.

Alabama Resident and Ringleader of Multi-Million Dollar Stolen Identity Tax Refund Fraud Schemes Sentenced to 30 Years in Prison

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Over 8,800 Identities Stolen from the U.S. Army, Alabama State Agencies and Georgia Businesses

A Phenix City, Alabama, resident was sentenced today to 30 years in prison for his role in masterminding multiple stolen identity refund fraud (SIRF) schemes, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney Louis V. Franklin, Sr. of the Middle District of Alabama.

William Anthony Gosha III, a/k/a Boo Boo, was convicted, following a jury trial in November 2017, of one count of conspiracy, 22 counts of mail fraud, three counts of wire fraud, and 25 counts of aggravated identity theft.

According to the evidence presented at trial and sentencing, between November 2010 and December 2013, Gosha ran a large-scale identity theft ring with his co-conspirators, Tracy Mitchell, Keshia Lanier, and Tamika Floyd, who were all previously convicted and sentenced to prison.  Together they filed over 8,800 tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that sought more than $22 million in fraudulent refunds of which the IRS paid out approximately $9 million.

In November 2010, Gosha stole IDs of inmates from the Alabama Department of Corrections and provided the IDs to Lanier who used the information to seek fraudulent tax refunds.  Gosha and Lanier agreed to split the proceeds.  Gosha also stole employee records from a company previously located in Columbus, Georgia.  In 2012, Lanier needed an additional source of stolen IDs and approached Floyd, who worked at two Alabama state agencies in Opelika, Alabama: the Department of Public Health and the Department of Human Resources.  In both positions, Floyd had access to the personal identifying information of individuals, including teenagers.  Lanier requested that Floyd primarily provide her with identities that belonged to sixteen and seventeen year-olds.  Floyd agreed and provided thousands of names to Lanier and others at Lanier’s direction.

After receiving the additional stolen IDs, Gosha recruited Mitchell and her family to help file the fraudulent tax returns.  Mitchell worked at a hospital located at Fort Benning, Georgia, where she had access to the personal identification information of military personnel, including soldiers who were deployed to Afghanistan.  She stole soldiers’ IDs and used their information to file fraudulent returns.

In order to electronically file the fraudulent returns, Gosha, Lanier, and their co-conspirators applied for several Electronic Filing Identification Numbers (EFIN) with the IRS in the names of sham tax preparation businesses.  Gosha, Lanier, and their co-conspirators then used these EFINs to file the returns and obtain tax refund related bank products from various financial institutions, which provided them with blank check stock.  Gosha and his co-conspirators initially printed out the fraudulently obtained refund checks using the blank check stock.

However, the financial institutions halted Gosha’s and his co-conspirators’ ability to print checks.  As a result, they recruited U.S. Postal employees who provided Gosha and others with addresses on their routes to which the fraudulent refund checks could be directly mailed.  In exchange for cash, these postal employees intercepted the refund checks and provided them to Gosha, Lanier, Mitchell and others.  Gosha also directed tax refunds to prepaid debit cards and had those cards sent to addresses he controlled.

In addition, between January 2010 and December 2013, Gosha participated in a separate SIRF scheme with Pamela Smith and others, in which Gosha sold the IDs that he had stolen from the Alabama Department of Corrections to Smith and others.  Smith and others used the IDs to file returns that sought approximately $4.8 million in fraudulent refunds of which the IRS paid out approximately $1.85 million.  Smith also has been convicted and sentenced to prison for this conduct.

At Gosha’s sentencing, the government offered victim impact statements from several individuals whose identities were stolen, and from companies and governmental agencies where the identity theft breaches occurred.  An Alabama Department of Public Health representative noted, the identity theft was not only devastating financially, but it also had a chilling effect on the department’s ability to serve the residents of the State of Alabama.  A mother of a young U.S. Army soldier who was an identity theft victim described the consequences of the fraud on her and her family, stating:

While [my son] was fighting for our country and all back home[,] I received a very disturbing phone call from [an] Agent [] from the IRS that my son[,] while at Ft. Benning training to defend our country[,] the land of the free[,] had his identity stolen and fraudulent tax returns were filed with his social security number.  This news was devastating to think that my [] 19-year-old son[,] who was defending the very freedom this country stands [for] [,] was wronged by one of those people [he] was willing to die for.  My whole family could not believe what was happening.  We now had to worry about this terrible act by one of our own.  As I tried my best to keep composed and handle all of the gruesome mounds of paperwork to get this straightened out with the IRS, [my son] was then denied his tax refund [as result of this scheme].  This created a financial hardship on [him].  We were too afraid to tell [him] while he was deployed because we did not want to worry him and we wanted him to focus only on getting home alive and not have to worry about such an atrocious act by someone who did not even know [him].

In addition to the term of imprisonment, U.S. Chief District Court Judge Keith Watkins ordered Gosha to serve three years of supervised release and to pay restitution in the amount of $9,052,049.

Prior to Gosha’s sentencing, thirty of his co-conspirators have been sentenced, including Keisha Lanier who received 15 years and Tracy Mitchell who received over 13 years.

Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Zuckerman and U.S. Attorney Franklin commended special agents of Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation and U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General who investigated this case and Trial Attorneys Michael C. Boteler and Gregory P. Bailey of the Tax Division and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Ross of the Middle District of Alabama, who prosecuted the case.

Additional information about the Tax Division and its enforcement efforts may be found on the division’s website.